Energy Storage

Storing energy, on the scale that power companies produce the energy, has been the center of renewable energy for fifty years. In the 1970's was the first major push toward renewable energy and it's storage when the OPEC oil monopoly restricted availability of oil and the prices went through the roof. I remember a guy named Billings trying to get a hydrogen economy going in Utah Valley. It's a nice dream: use the excess electricity generation to power a large bank of electrolytic cells to turn water into hydrogen gas and oxygen; store the hydrogen, release the oxygen.

But there were problems. Hydrogen is not a very energy-dense fuel, so it needs a lot of space to store a relatively (by power company standards) small amount of energy. Liquifying the hydrogen is possible, if you care to spend even more energy making it, energy which you don't get back. And the excess oxygen, while that sounds good to animals, is deadly to plants when it wafts over a growing field. 

Billings at the time tried to sell hydrogen for its safety. When hydrogen burns in air the updraft is so fast that you can't get burned next to a flaming ball of it. But on the downside, it explodes over a huge range of concentrations, anything between 4% and 75%, widening to 95% if a catalyst like chlorine is present.

To store hydrogen for fueling a car you need a tank larger than the car. Or you can store it more densely in a metal, like palladium or platinum. Look up the current prices and you'll se that's a non-starter.

We've tried storing energy in the form of hot salts, by pumping water uphill into a reservoir, by spinning large metal rotors to high speeds, by compressing air, by liquifying air and letting it expand through a turbine, and a lot more, for the last fifty years. And nothing has worked. 

I guess that's the lesson: when you fail at a thing for 50 years, it's just not going to work.

But what if we had a way to store energy at a high density, was a solid, could be used quickly enough to make a great amount of energy when demanded?

We do. It's coal. Millions of years of sunlight captured, compressed into a high-density form, easy to mine, easy to burn. It's made for energy storage. Oil's good too.

But climate alarmists have pretty much talked the world out of burning it. You can look at my analysis of the current temperature record in the US to see what I think of those alarmists.

But like politicians who intervene to make things worse, alarmists will choose the most unwise path. In the 1980's they decried the sulfur dioxide release as coal was burned, so laws were passed and power plant operators, responding to our needs, ended up burning far more coal than they had to to run the sulfur scrubbers and pretreatment, releasing a massive amount of extra carbon dioxide. Now they decry the very thing they helped create, the excess CO2. It's really sort of creepy watching them in action. But they need to feel they are in control, so they make it happen with politicians who also feel they need to be in control.

But it's not going to end. When one thing gets solved, there will always be another disaster awaiting the human race. And it, too, will never happen.

Ce la vie!